Page 89 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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K
nox
— Y
itzhok
L
e ib
P
eretz
83
wavering goes back through the gauntlet to pick it up and
cover his head. Here the
yarmulke
is the symbol of
mesires
nefesh,
of an integrity of spirit which cannot be defined in
sacred or mundane categories, yet embraces both and rises be­
yond them. In “Bontche Shweig,” Bontche is the victim of
injustices, insults, and injuries, which cast a shadow upon a
society tolerating such exploitation and humiliation of the meek.
But the shadow also touches the accusers and antagonists of this
society for failing to awaken in Bontche his latent self-esteem
and to teach him (and the multitude of Bontches) to understand
the true meaning of his worth as a person. In “If Not Higher”
there is no diminution of the
rebbe’s
stature for dressing like a
peasant and bringing wood to the poor and helpless widow.
There is none because here not only has the “transcendental”
been enshrined in the temporal process, but the temporal process
has been harnessed to the “transcendental.”
The perfect counterpart, however, to Bontche, antiphonal to
it, is Avreml of “Avreml Bass,” the would-be fiddler. Poor in
worldly goods and in mental endowment too, the butt of every­
body’s amusement and laughter, his soul leaves his body at a
very important wedding as he is drawing his bow across his
instrument out of tune with the other musicians. The bow falls
from his hand and all are awe-struck and silent as the
rebbe
announces that the death of Avreml Bass was not just “acci­
dental”; it was ordained because the heavenly orchestra lacked
a player, and of all the conceivable candidates Avreml Bass was
chosen to complete the heavenly orchestra.
It was thus that the Hassidic stories and folk tales of Peretz—
precisely because their subject matter was removed from the
current scene—made the idealists and dreamers of his generations
aware of the intrinsic worth of the “common man” and of the
values and “message” of Jewish history, and reminded them
that they were the heirs of a tradition and the bearers of a
destiny. In “Between Two Cliffs” a disciple tells about a con­
versation between the
rebbe
of Biale and the
rov
of Brisk, a
mithnagid.
The
rebbe
pleads with the
rov
to observe that the
Torah is not confined to the pages of a book but is immanent
in the world too, in the trees and grass and blue sky, in the
men, women and children with smiles upon their faces and
rejoicing in their hearts. The disciple gently adds that he too
suddenly saw the world
out there—
the sights and sounds he
looked at and heard all his life—as a new and virgin world, as
if his eyes had been hitherto clouded with scales and now they
were washed away, and into his ken came “a new heaven and
a new earth.”
It is this that Peretz achieved for his generations, for us, and
for subsequent generations: his stories and poems, his plays—